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The Heart of Road Rage
By: Jim Alseth

Neil (not his real name) is a middle-class urban male. He is educated, owns a decent home with two cars and an RV in the driveway. He loves sports and tries to stay active, especially by taking his wife and teenage daughters camping on the weekends. When it comes to road safety, he considers himself a good driver. He tries to obey the rules of the road, shoulder checks, signals lane changes and doesn’t park illegally. Taught by his father who was a driving instructor, he has had only one speeding ticket in 28 years of driving and boasts an excellent claims record. All this, though, is doing little to console Neil as he contemplates the incident that just took place.

The morning started out like most other mornings, though he noticed he was slightly agitated and somewhat preoccupied as he entered the car. Not far from his home he began slowing down as he approached the 4-way stop--an intersection he disliked. People were always cheating it, doing rolling stops or proceeding out of turn. He felt edgy as he came to a halt, two seconds before the black Mustang on his right. As he began to proceed, the driver of the Mustang suddenly gunned it, storming through the intersection in front of him. Applying the brakes to avoid a collision, Neil laid on the horn heavily. Probably a mistake, he thought; but regardless, the jerk needed to hear it.

The reaction of the other driver caught Neil by surprise. The obscene gestures and vulgar language, combined with an emphatic challenge to fisticuffs was more than he could handle. Normally, he would have exercised the good sense to ignore it and keep on driving. But something inside him snapped at the injustice of it all, and so he accelerated through the intersection and immediately pulled over to the right, as if to say, “come and get me.”

The Mustang driver responded with a quick u-turn, and squealed directly in behind Neil’s brown sedan. The burley driver in his mid-twenties got out of the car, slammed the door and began walking towards Neil’s open window. Everything inside him wanted to get out and start throwing punches, but he sensed the whole episode was getting out-of-hand and so he chose a less aggressive approach. His attempts to impart instruction about 4-way stops fell on deaf ears. But he was able at least, in spite of the man’s senseless tirade, to avoid a physical confrontation. The man stomped back to his car and sped off. Neil sat there for a moment, shaking. He realized how close he’d come to a much less desirable result--even front-page news stuff. After calming down, he slowly pulled away from the curb and made his way to work. All day his mind turned over the question: How did that happen?

All of us can relate to the above profile in some way, if not to the actual circumstances, at least to the emotions involved (especially if you’re male). As road-rage becomes more of a concern each year on North American roads and as we roll into heavy summer driving season, what can we do differently in the way of prevention? Excellent material on the “dos and don’ts” of road-rage is plentiful--just do an Internet search on “how to avoid road-rage.” But some of the following thoughts about the why question may get you thinking.

Not too many are saying it, but let’s be honest: road-rage is predominantly a male problem. Bad driving comes from both sexes, to be sure; but I think it’s safe to say (though I have no statistics) that men are the instigators in most road-rage cases. The tendency to aggressive and angry behavior is a masculine trait--nothing to be ashamed of or to beat ourselves up over--but simply to be faced honestly.* Emotions are not evil in themselves we’re told; it’s what we do with them that’s important. I know I’ve had to face mine. You see, the above anecdote isn’t fictitious; it’s my own. I’ve had several others like it over the years and they’ve caused me to intently search out the why question.

The real issue with any incident is not “what the other guy did to me;” it’s about the safety of everyone on the road. Similarly, the real issue is not “that so-and-so cut me off;” it’s about my reaction to the event. Reactions proceed from the heart, not the intellect. And so, if we get into our vehicle with something brewing in our hearts--some hurt or unforgiveness--we can count on our buttons being pushed while on the road. I learned this vividly from my “4-way stop” incident. I began to prayerfully ask the question: “What are You trying to show me about my own heart?” In the days that followed, with the help of some trusted friends, the answer came very clearly. It wasn’t about the Mustang driver at all. Surprise. It was about a long-standing personal issue that just happened to be surfacing at the time. The Mustang driver was just the triggerman. Similar revelations resulted from my other “close calls."

Which brings me to something else, unique to our culture and generation. When you jump into your car and plunge into morning rush hour, you not only bring your own life issues with you but you intersect the personal domains of hundreds of others as well. Think about it. When has this ever been the case in human history? From the time of Adam until the 1900s the world’s societies were agriculturally based. When a man woke up in the morning “out-of-sorts,” he could go out into the fields and work out his issues with a little sweat, a horse and a plow. Now, we drive into an atmosphere literally charged with the emotions of hundreds of others on our trek to and from work every day. It’s no wonder we deal with something called road rage and it’s really by the grace of God we don’t have more of it.

So what can we do about all this? I have only one simple piece of advice. Enter your car with an attitude of prayer. My prayers of late have begun to go something like this: "Lord, guard my heart today; it is yours. Do not let what is in my heart put me or others in danger. Shield me from being provoked, and may your grace and mercy reside in my heart and cover the roads I drive today."

* We`ve said it before in this space: Wild at Heart by John Eldredge is a must-read regarding the unique issues facing men in our generation.

Published: 5/17/2004
Source: Great Camping Spots

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